Program gives Hawaii farmers tools to succeed


It’s the time of year that we celebrate the Fourth of July. As a nation, we celebrate having the liberty to take charge of and be responsible for our own life. Kohala Center has a program “Cultivating the next generation of Hawaii farmers” who will have this opportunity. Thank you to the Kohala Center’s “The Leaflet” May/June 2013 edition for the following article:

“An overwhelming majority of the food sold and consumed in Hawaii comes from outside the state. With an abundance of fertile agricultural land available — particularly on Hawaii Island — and a climate that lends itself to farming year-round, one would think Hawaii could produce more food locally. Among the primary barriers is a shortage of farmers, and a new program at The Kohala Center is changing that.

“The shortage of farmers is not just a local challenge — it’s a national one. As older farmers retire and many of their progeny have waning interest in agricultural careers, the pipeline of trained farmers and ranchers is smaller than in generations past. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dispersed $18 million in funding in 2012 across twenty-seven states to support new farmer training and education programs. The Kohala Center received a grant from the USDA to create and deliver Ku I Ka Mana, a beginning farmer training initiative. The County of Hawaii provided the necessary matching funds to secure the USDA grant.

“The challenges faced by citizens interested in becoming farmers, particularly in Hawaii, can be daunting. While a lack of knowledge or sense of ‘where to begin’ is a significant barrier, the high costs of land and resources in Hawaii can make careers in farming seem unattainable. Infrastructure for preparing, packaging, and distributing agricultural products within the state is limited. And lack of access to capital can be discouraging to novice and experienced farmers alike. Ku I Ka Mana seeks to help beginning farmers overcome many of these barriers.

“Serving as the program’s director is Hawaii Island kalo (taro) farmer and poi producer Jim Cain. Cain’s network of farmers and agricultural professionals across the state enables him to assemble an ‘A-List’ team of local instructors to share their wisdom with the new farmers.

“‘The idea of developing farmer training programs has been floating around for a long time, really since the closing of the sugar plantations,’ Cain said. ‘Jobs were lost and agricultural areas across the islands, especially places on this island where a vast majority of the state’s agricultural lands are, were hardest hit. Our program envisions a new generation of farmers making up ‘a thousand points of green’ up and down the Hamakua coastline and beyond. We have the land, the water, the expertise, and the demand. What we need now are more farmers.’”

“Starting in Hamakua, Ku I Ka Mana aims to recruit, train, and support at least forty new farmers in 2013 and 2014. The program also helps these new farmers develop business plans, secure farm leases, gain access to farm equipment and materials, and successfully produce, market, and distribute their crops. As part of this program, The Kohala Center is leasing and transforming twelve acres of former sugar production land in Honokaa into Ka Hua ‘Aina, a site that’s being used to teach successful commercial farming practices.

“The first cohort of Ku I Ka Mana students — made up of 12 island families — completed sixteen weeks of classroom and field instruction in May. Students represented diverse interests in what they wanted to farm, ranging from kale and salad greens to poultry, taro, and orchard crops. The course covered a vast range of critical subject areas, such as measuring and building soil fertility; irrigation; how to create inputs like biochar, compost, compost tea, and indigenous microorganisms (IMOs); crop rotation strategies; pest management; pollination; and the “business” side of farming — marketing, accounting, budgeting, and record-keeping.

“Most of the agricultural curriculum emphasizes organic, natural, and sustainable farming methods. Donna Mitts, a student in the first cohort who also serves as The Kohala Center’s Hawaii Island School Garden Network coordinator, currently leases two acres of farmland in Paauilo managed by the Hamakua Agricultural Cooperative. ‘The farmer training classes and instructors really spoke to my own desire to be a good steward of the land I farm on,’ Mitts said. ‘Learning more about sustainable practices and natural alternatives to manufactured inputs and pesticides has shown me that I can farm responsibly and more traditionally, and still get good results in terms of yield and quality,’ he said.

“Given the relatively high cost of farmland in Hawaii, capital is often perceived as a significant barrier for people interested in farming. While Ku I Ka Mana is designed to prepare participants to qualify for State of Hawaii or other land leases, beginning farmers are also finding other creative ways to access property with agricultural potential. Twenty-nine-year-old Stephen Filipiak, also a graduate of Ku I Ka Mana’s first cohort, currently rents one of several homes on an 86-acre property in Ninole. The land has a five-acre orchard of approximately 240 lychee trees and timber bamboo, and fallow sections of the property have significant potential to become productive farmland.

“Filipiak was particularly inspired by the portion of the course that focused on Natural Farming methods for improving and maintaining soil fertility.

“‘I have a small ‘test garden’ I set up a few years ago, and had been teaching myself primarily through trial and error,’ Filipiak said. ‘The farmer training program broadened my perspective and taught me that I’ve got to complement and work with the natural processes that are already happening around me. The humble approach of working in partnership with this beautiful land, rather than trying to control it, was emphasized throughout the class and I’m thankful for that. Applying what I learned in the class is already yielding positive results, so now I’m more confident and motivated to apply the knowledge beyond the garden and on to a more sizeable portion of land. It’s really exciting.’”

“Ku I Ka Mana is currently recruiting applicants for the program’s second cohort, which begins on Friday, Aug. 2, and runs through Friday, Nov. 8. Land ownership or previous farming experience is not required. Classes are held Friday evenings from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the North Hawaii Education & Research Center (NHERC) in Honokaa, and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Ka Hua ‘Aina farm site. For more information and to apply, visit kohalacenter.org/farmertraining/home.html.”

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There’s new happenings at the Honokaa People’s Theatre. The People’s Theatre Cafe is now under way; they’re open and working out on a new menu and upcoming grand opening. Stop in today, Sunday 7 for a delicious Hamakua coffee.

Carol Yurth’s column is published every Sunday and spotlights activities on the Hilo-Hamakua coast. She welcomes items for her column. Reach her by mail (46-1250 Kalehua Road, Honokaa HI 96727) at least 10 days before the requested publication date, call her at 775-7101, or e-mail waiukahenutz@gmail.com.

 

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